NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A government proposal to spend nearly $30 million celebrating the country’s 50th year of independence is causing an outcry among civil society groups who say the country does not have any reason to celebrate let alone the means to do it.
Civil society activists are also questioning the government’s spending priorities because public servants like doctors, police officers and teachers remain unmotivated to work because of poor pay and working conditions.
Morris Odhiambo, president of the National Civil Society Congress, said Tuesday that the proposal to spend nearly $30 million was the latest of a pattern of questionable expenditure of the four-month-old government of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Others include the proposal of building an office and home for former President Mwai Kibaki at a cost of nearly $6 million, he said.
More than half the Kenyan population lives below the poverty line and the country has an external debt of about $6.8 billion, so the government should practice austerity instead of spending money for a celebration, Odhiambo said.
“All these things are avenues of corruption,” he said. Kenya is ranked 139th out of 182 nations by anti-corruption campaigners Transparency International.
Kenya’s government spokesman Muthui Kariuki did not answer calls seeking comment.
Kenya gained independence from Britain on December 12, 1963 and became a republic one year later.
The Coalition for Constitution Implementation said the government’s celebration proposal is a “serious economic crime”
“This is also a slap on the face of Kenyans who are currently overburdened by the cost of living and the majority of whom have nothing to show or to celebrate as the last 50 years have been characterized by economic plunder, corruption and oppression,” the group’s Cidi David Otieno said.
The minimum wage in Kenya is about $1,500 a year but many here live on even less.
Seth Panyako, the secretary general of the Kenyan National Union of Nurses, said the money the government is proposing to spend can run free maternal health care services for five years.
Nurses are planning to go on strike because they are being overworked due to a shortage of up to 40,000 nurses, Panyako said. The introduction of free maternity health care in public hospitals on June 1 has worsened the situation, he said.
“You cannot have one nurse managing 20 expectant mothers,” Panyako said. “We are condemning the government for having misplaced priorities.”